Monday, October 10, 2011

Despair -- Part I

OK. After a few days of serious inner mourning, I think I am ready to go public.

As a Philadelphia sports fan right now, I am in a deep despair.

And I know I'm not even close to alone in this feeling. Like most of Philadelphia's sports fans, I am still kind of in shock about the Phillies embarrassing elimination at the hands of an inferior St. Louis Cardinals team. And with the way it all happened, in a lot of ways there's not much to say, really. I mean, we lost a Game 5 at home by the score of 1-0, so that's just not the kind of game that someone who understands the game can really attack all that much, at least not from most perspectives. But then, if you take a little bit of a step back, the Phils signed Roy Halladay a couple of years ago and paid him roughly 20 million dollars a year, and then this past season they signed Cliff Lee and paid him another 20 mil a year or so, and the whole idea was supposed to be that the team was building more or less the greatest short-series baseball team that ever lived. I mean, who is going to beat Halladay, Lee, Hamels and Oswalt in a 7-game series, especially when Philly has home-field advantage throughout the entire post-season, right?

Answer: The Cardinals. The Phillies lost 2 out of 3 games at home in the NLDS, and in those two losses the Phillies' starters were Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay. It's that simple, really. The Phillies lost 2 out of 3 games at home with their two near-unhittable aces on the mound. Now, for what it's worth, I think it's hard to say much about Roy Halladay overall in this series, who gave up just four earned runs over two full starts and looked pretty well dominating other than a couple of shaky first innings. But Cliff Lee had one of his bad outings in Game 2, giving up 5 earned in only about half a game, and the Phils couldn't muster enough runs to come back from that early deficit in eventually losing the game 5-3. And in a short series, those two losses were too much to be outweighed even by Phillies' #3 pitcher Cole Hamels' gutsy six inning shutout performance in what seemed at the time like a huge victory in Game 3 in St. Louis.

And let's not just focus on the pitching, as it was really more the Phillies' offense that completely weighted the team down and out of the playoffs for the second straight season. After an 11-run outburst in Game 1, Phillies fans were shocked and frustrated beyond belief in watching the team score just 10 runs in the final four games of the series. And putting even this great pitching staff in the position of having to give up two runs or fewer per game over four of the five games in the series, simply did not work. That strategy does not work in professional baseball ever, period. Carlos Ruiz and Placido Polanco, great contributors during the regular season and/or past post-season runs, couldn't touch the ball throughout this series. Ryan Howard, despite winning Game 1 single-handedly with his bat, totally disappeared in the rest of the series, culminating in Game 3 when Tony LaRussa actually pitched around someone to put him on base and face Ryan Howard -- the league's greatest RBI man over the past five seasons -- with another runner on base. Howard promptly struck out in one of the many horrible-looking at-bats he had in the series, but the fact that an opposing manager would ever even consider walking someone on purpose to pitch to Howard speaks volumes about how far Howard has fallen in the esteem of some opposing coaches (although it should be mentioned that LaRussa made an unbelievable ass out of himself in that same game by intentionally walking Carlos Ruiz and then promptly giving up a 3-run home run to a pinch hitting Ben Francisco to take the loss). But the guy sure had Ryan Howard's number after the first game, there's no debating that point. Some of the other Phillies hitters had decent series at the plate, but nobody was really able to step up and come up with that one huge hit the team desperately needed to stay alive in this series. And when you combine the team scoring 2.5 runs per game through most of the series, with Roy Halladay giving up 3 runs in the first inning of Game 1, Cliff Lee ceding five earned runs in five innings in Game 2, and Roy Oswalt allowing five more runs in 5 innings in Game 4, that is simply not a winning combination, no matter how much better on paper one team is than another.

I think a lot of the reason for the despair right now, at least with me if not anyone else, is that there is just this sinking feeling about the nucleus of this team being past its prime, that there just may not be other chances as good as this season again. I mean, look at this objectively. The Phillies won the World Series in 2008, on a team on which Cole Hamels was the only great pitcher and which saw him win the MVP of every series as he utterly dominated all comers on the way to the franchise's second world championship in 50,000 years of existence. And although mostly everyone fought me on it at the time when I declared this the day after that historical championship victory in 2008, it seems painfully obvious to everyone now I am sure that the 2008 Phillies were, in fact, the best team in the major leagues that year, hands down. So the Phillies won the World Series as the best baseball team in the world in 2008, and then in 2009 they made it back to the Series but lost this time to the Yankees. Then in 2010 with the best record in baseball for the first time in 35 years, the Phillies lost in the NLCS to the San Francisco Giants who also completely shut down the Phillies' lineup, and now in 2011 -- again with far and away this time the league's best record -- the team has lost in the NLDS to a totally run-of-the-mill below average playoff team in the Cardinals. So it's been four straight years of WS - WS loss - NLCS loss - NLDS loss for the Phillies. Anybody else seeing a trend here? And even more disurbing is that the payroll has climbed every year since 2008, and the team has signed major free agents in each of those years as the "star power" on the team has skyrocketed. To think that that 2008 team outperformed this 2011 Phillies squad is mind-boggingling if you just look at the rosters, and especially at the starting rotations. I mean, it's just not close.

But you know what has changed on this team since 2008? The hunger. I wrote about this three years ago, not even knowing until last year's Giants series and now especially this year's with the Cardinals just how right I was, but this team lost the eye of the tiger. That win in 2008 was just so amazing, so special, and so cathartic for those players, the manager, the fans and the entire city of Philadelphia, the team just let up a little. There's just no doubting this fact anymore. They've lost that hunger, that insistence that they win. Whereas in 2008 it was Cole Hamels on the mound instead of Roy Halladay in a big spot like this Game 5, he could have pitched the identical great game that Halladay did the other day, but that scrappy never-lose 2008 team would have found a way to score a couple of runs late in the game and to move on to the pennant. If you knew that 2008 Phillies team like I did, then you know what I am saying is right. Back then, this city, and that Phillies squad, were desperate for a win, they would have done anything for a win, and they did repeatedly, using late-game heroics throughout each series to nab wins from the jaws of defeat and never disappointing the fans at home in the playoffs. Over the past two seasons, however, far superior Phillies teams in terms of raw talent -- I mean, squads that aren't even close if you look at the numbers on paper -- went and lost each of the past two seasons in a one-run elimination game at home in which they never even really put up a significant threat to score and come back to make a game out of it. It's hard to believe, really, but the Philadelphia Phillies won their world title in 2008, and since then they just haven't been trying nearly hard enough, haven't been wanting it nearly bad enough. And they're all guilty of it -- everyone except Hamels anyways, who has been more or less fucking awesome every time he's gone out there in the postseason since and including 2008 -- but everyone else is to blame for this. Rollins, who is a shell of the player he was in 2008. Utley, same thing. Howard, same thing. Ruiz, same. Victorino didn't do much in this series either. Guys like Halladay, Lee and Oswalt, who weren't even on that team in 2008 and never really lived through the lean century the Phillies have just recently emerged from. The list just goes on and on. Like Sylvester Stallone at the beginning of Rocky III, the Phillies have just lost the eye of the tiger, and unless they find some way to get it back under country bumpkin Charlie Manuel, there won't be any more baseball titles in this town anytime soon. And, I should mention, this is why I celebrated that 2008 championship so fucking hard when it happened. Because as a lifelong sports fan, I know how hard it is, how rare it is, for a team to be able to duplicate success like the Phillies had in 2008. Especially in Philadelphia, I don't think that town has ever been ready to deal with having a dynasty yet, which is exactly what the Phillies would have officially become if they had won it all this year. I mean, WS - losing WS - losing NLCS - WS reads a heck of a lot better than WS - losing WS - losing NLCS - losing NLDS, don't it? But thanks to a lack of true desire, effort, and desperation to win, the fans of Philadelphia won't have to worry about this again anytime soon.

And the fans are also depressed here because, after posting the best record in baseball in 2010 with 97 wins, the team shut down on offense and lost in 6 games to the Giants in the NLCS last year. And now this year they posted the best record in the National League in years with 102 wins, head and shoulders above the rest of the league for pretty much the final 80% of the regular season this year, and now the Phils didn't even make it past one round against a team that had all but given up at Citi Field just a month ago. All of this leaves us Phillies fans with this feeling that the regular season just doesn't mean anything anymore. Best team in baseball two years running, and we've haven't even sniffed the World Series? Huh? If you think anyone in Philadelphia is looking forward to next season right now, you don't have a clue how those people feel. Right now, the feeling about the 2012 baseball season in Philadelphia is somewhere between dread and apathy. Many people will just dread being let down like this again next year, and those who don't dread it like myself are certainly at least sharing my feeling that who gives a fuck what the Phils do during the regular season next year. It means nothing. We can't beat worse teams in critical games at home with our ace on the mound anymore when it counts, so why get excited, right? That's how it feels to me anyways, and I'm sure about ten million of my closest friends in and around the Philadelphia area these days.

You ever hear that adage that great pitching always beats great hitting in the playoffs?

Not always.

--Part II of "The Despair" is coming later this week. You can guess what other Philadelphia sports team that has to do with.

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Blogger lightning36 said...

Your next post is about the "Dream Team?"

8:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Inferior St. Louis Cardinals?

Sure the Phils have a much better pitching staff but top to bottom the Cards everyday lineup in much better both offensively and defensively than any lineup the Phils could even attempt to put out there.

Don't think so? Go check the numbers.

Baseball playoffs are totally random. Six month and 162 games then a five game series? I don't get it.

9:12 PM  
Blogger Hammer Player a.k.a Hoyazo said...

I am well aware that the Cardinals scored more runs than anyone in the NL this year, so their lineup is clearly better than the Phils' no doubt. But they scored under 50runs more than the Phillies, while giving up 170 more runs on the year. I think it's fair to say that overall, the comparison between the two teams is not close.

Not that is matters now, all that matters is who is still alive in the playoffs and that's the Cardinals, so I'm not taking anything away from them.

Not sure what can be done about a 5-game series in the playoffs. How many games do you want these teams to play in the post-season? Best 9 out of 19? Plus, let's be honest -- the Cards would have won this series no matter how long it lasted when Polanco, Howard, Ibanez, Pence and Ruiz combined to go 12 for 89 for a whopping .134 during the series.

Best of luck against the Brewers man. They're going to be tough to beat for this team with the way the Brewers play at home.

9:33 PM  
Blogger Josie said...

blah, blah, blah. that which does not kill us makes us stronger. Welcome to my world.


A Red Sox Fan

8:47 AM  
Blogger Josie said...


8:48 AM  

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